Anti-vax Airbnb hosts and the strange case of Georgia Rose
Sign up here to get the next edition of this newsletter, straight to your inbox.
As the Delta variant swept through Europe, so did a wave of protests against vaccines and Covid-19 regulations.
In France, more than 100,000 people marched against a health pass that will soon be required to enter any cultural or leisure space with more than 50 people and to use long-distance public transport. Protesters vandalized two vaccination sites, flooding one and burning the other.
In Cyprus, where a health pass is now required for entering malls and restaurants, a crowd attacked a TV station and torched cars.
Thousands took to the streets of Athens, Greece, after the government announced mandatory vaccines for health workers.
Meanwhile, an anti-vaccine protest in a small Polish town of Glogow turned into an antisemitic rally as members of the crowd blamed “the Jews” for the pandemic. It’s not just Poland, either. Coda’s Erica Hellerstein recently reported on how antisemitism has collided with junk science during the pandemic.
Protests are not the only way people are reacting against vaccines and restrictions. In France, a new website cataloguing businesses that do not ask for proof of vaccination is gaining popularity across social media. It claims to have collected 5,860 venues and is planning to expand to more European countries. The largest category of service providers on the site is, ironically, “Doctors, medicine and health.”
And, now, we are spotting an increasing trend of Airbnb hosts refusing to host vaccinated visitors. It happened to Amanda Quraisihi from Austin, Texas, who tried to book an apartment and found that the hosts wouldn’t accept anyone who has had “experimental vaccines” (i.e. Pfizer or Moderna), because they believed that they could shed particles and infect unvaccinated individuals. Of course, it’s completely untrue, but as the “shedding” myth pops up in other rental listings, Airbnb is the latest tech platform to face the conspiracy theory challenge. Airbnb does not allow hosts to mention Covid-19 or quarantine in listing titles, and says it doesn’t permit them to encourage guests to ignore health advisories, though it has no specific advice on hosting people based on their vaccination status. “I can confirm we have suspended the listing for promoting Covid misinformation in violation of our content policy,” said Airbnb spokesman Metin Parlak.
COVID CHAOS HITS KAZAKHSTAN
One medic in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, is organizing emergency ward tours for anti-vaccine activists. Coronavirus cases are climbing across Central Asia, and have just hit a record high in Chief Doctor Jandarbek Bekshin’s country. According to him, in Almaty, “this is due to the work of anti-vaxxers.” So far, only three activists have visited the hospital. According to a press release issued by city health authorities, they went quiet after “the shocking tour,” but whether they changed their minds remained unclear.
In the city of Atrau on the Caspian Sea, health authorities have decided to sue a patient who faked seizures after being vaccinated. Our friends in Kazakhstan report (piece in Russian) that after getting his shot at an open air vaccination drive in Atrau, a young man appeared to collapse on a sidewalk. He was rushed to hospital, but once there, doctors found that nothing was wrong with him. However, that didn’t stop a video of his performance being used on social media to illustrate the purported dangers of coronavirus vaccines.
Seizures, however, don’t have to be fake in order to push disinformatio.
THE NOCEBO EFFECT
By Isobel Cockerell
The videos are scary. In one, the girl’s arm shakes uncontrollably as she tries to eat a piece of toast. In another, she’s walking with the aid of a Zimmer frame, her legs buckling beneath her. It was posted on Instagram by a young British woman with the handle Georgia Rose and has been widely shared across the UK this week, depicting her suffering after receiving a second Pfizer jab.
“I am SO angry I didn’t listen to myself,” she wrote. “Let’s make people aware of what the fuck is going on!” Followers of Georgia Rose’s account have recently risen to 43,000, driven by many young people reposting her story and pledging that they will not get their second jab.
The UK is currently racing against the Delta variant, as it attempts to complete its national vaccine rollout. Meanwhile, videos like this one are regularly seized upon by anti-vaxxers. So, in case you’ve come across it, let’s look at what’s really happening here.
According to Georgia Rose, her doctors have diagnosed her with functional neurological disorder — a very real condition with real symptoms, including tremors, limb weakness and blackouts. But it’s not caused by coronavirus vaccines.
FND can be triggered by any stressful event, such as a medical procedure, an accident, or even an injection. The trigger was likely to be undergoing the immunization process, not anything in the actual vaccine. In fact, Georgia Rose could have had the same reaction if she had been injected with saline.
“It’s a bit like the nocebo effect, where you develop the symptoms, even though the thing that you’re given hasn’t actually created any disease-related biological changes in you,” explains Suzanne O’Sullivan, a neurologist and writer.
That Georgia Rose’s symptoms began to develop immediately after her second shot is another clue that the ingredients of the vaccine are not responsible.
“It doesn’t make biological sense for things to have gone downhill that quickly,” said O’Sullivan adding that people who are afraid to be vaccinated are more susceptible to FND than those who share no such concerns. “Worrying considerably less about it would put you at a much lower risk.”
There have so far been two reports of FND following the administration of more than 3.75 billion vaccines worldwide. As Vice journalist Matt Shea – whose Instagram story first alerted me to Georgia’s case – put it, “the statistical likelihood of this is, say, the same as a lunatic beating you to death with a Stradivarius violin on the way to the shops.”
Coda’s Mary Steffenhagen and Mariam Kiparoidze contributed to this edition.